Mystery of Angela Chao’s Death Deepens After Reports of Panicked 911 Call Before Drowning in Tesla

The death of Angela Chao, the sister-in-law of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, continues to haunt American headlines.

There are numerous questions about the timing and circumstances of Angela Chao’s death, which was first reported in the American media in early February as an “unfortunate accident” at an Austin, Texas area ranch whose ownership can be traced to a company with ties to her billionaire capitol investor husband Jim Breyer.

Chao’s “unfortunate accident” occurred when her husband Jim Breyer was in the United Arab Emirates for an event calling itself the “World Government Summit.”

Angela Chao’s death was also referenced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as one trigger for his surprise announcement to retire from politics.

As reported by the New York Post on that seismic event in Senate politics, “McConnell cited the recent death of his wife’s youngest sister as a moment that prompted introspection.”

But Angela Chao’s death itself came amidst a number of changes in the relationship between the Chao family of shipping tycoons and China. In an interesting wrinkle to the story, Breyer in January had announced that his firm Breyer Capital was suspending investments in China for 18 months. In early February, IDG Capital, a venture firm with offices in Beijing and Hong Kong that is co-chaired by Jim Breyer, had to fend off the Pentagon’s accusations that it is assisting the Chinese military.

According to U.S. media details that eventually arose (foreign reports surfacing earlier had oddly described her death as a result of an intoxicated trucker running a red light and killing her in an accident), Chao had backed her Tesla into a pond and drowned.

There are perceived issues over this story: Teslas do not roll backwards like gas-powered vehicles that are put into “neutral.” Some also believe it is possible that Chao’s Tesla may have been “hacked” (like in the movie “Leave the World Behind.”)

The official response fueled speculation due to the mixed messages it sent.

“This incident was not a typical accident,” the Blanco County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton following Chao’s death.

“Although the preliminary investigation indicated this was an unfortunate accident, the Sheriff’s Office is still investigating this accident as a criminal matter until they have sufficient evidence to rule out criminal activity,” the letter said.

It was an “unfortunate accident,” but not a “typical accident”; and thus, a criminal investigation was opened.

Now, there may be some clarity over the circumstances of Chao’s death. The New York Post is reporting that Chao had made a 911 call during the eventually fatal incident.

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Angela Chao, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s billionaire sister-in-law, spent her last minutes alive frantically calling her friends for help as her Tesla slowly sank in a pond on a remote Texas ranch, according to a report.

Chao, the billionaire former CEO of dry bulk shipping giant Foremost Group, tragically died at the age of 50 on Feb. 10 after accidentally backing her car into the pond while making a three-point turn.

The driving mishap was detailed in a report by The Wall Street Journal that shed light on the chaotic rescue efforts that ultimately came up short, turning what was supposed to be a celebratory weekend with friends into a nightmare.

The Wall Street Journal conducted several interviews in order to piece together what allegedly happened on the night Chao died.

The night was chilly and very dark, with no moon, so rather than walk, Chao got in her Tesla Model X SUV for the four-minute trip back to the house. […]

Within minutes of saying her goodbyes, she called one of her friends in a panic. While making a three-point turn, she had put the car in reverse instead of drive, she said. It is a mistake she had made before with the Tesla gearshift. The car had zipped backward, tipping over an embankment and into a pond. It was sinking fast…

Over the next several hours, her friends, then the ranch manager and his wife, and then paramedics, and firefighters and sheriff’s deputies rushed around and tried to break the windows, find an escape hatch or any way to get Chao out of the car. 

The WSJ piece goes on to explain why Chao may have had a difficult time escaping. A motorist has approximately one minute to get out of a sinking automobile. When automobiles were built with more manual mechanics, a driver could crank down the window to get out, but this still required mental clarity, which is sometimes elusive in an emergency. In modern vehicles, such as the Tesla Model X, the driver may have seconds to press the button to pull down the window before the water level climbs too high. After that, the only way out is to shatter it, according to vehicle safety experts.

That is extremely tough underwater, and it becomes even more difficult when attempting to bash through tempered glass or stronger laminated glass, which is used by the majority of automobile manufacturers nowadays. According to company documents, Tesla could have utilized any of these two kinds of glass in its 2020 Model X. Laminated glass, in particular, is praised for its safety features, such as preventing a driver from being ejected after a collision; yet, the American Automobile Association’s testing found that it is very difficult to break while underwater.

The basic timeline of events leading up to Chao’s death, based on the WSJ investigation and additional reporting, is as follows.

On Friday night, after eating dinner and celebrating the Chinese New Year, Chao left the guesthouse about 11:30 p.m. to return to the main home, where her son slept. Due to the frigid weather, she chose to drive her Tesla Model X SUV instead of walking the four-minute distance.

However, within minutes, she contacted one of her pals in a panic. She explained that when performing a K-turn, she put the car in reverse rather than drive. While traveling rearward, the automobile slid over an embankment and into a pond, sinking quickly.

Her friends rushed to her aid, and one lady dove into the water, according to the Journal. The ranch manager and his wife went outside after hearing the disturbance, and someone else in addition to Chao called 911.

Blanco County emergency units arrived at 12:28 a.m., a full 24 minutes after receiving the call, according to an incident record acquired by the Post. Because of the difficult terrain, some responders exited their vehicles and walked to the site.

One respondent characterized the Tesla as fully submerged. During the rescue operations, sheriff’s deputies stood on top of it, attempting to break through a window.

According to the event report, a dive crew was required, but none was available. A tow truck arrived to remove the automobile out of the pond, but it lacked the necessary cable to reach the vehicle, which was considerably further out in the pond than rescuers had expected.

A longer cable was ultimately found. According to a witness at the scene, at least one tow truck driver was concerned about getting electrocuted by the electric car. Around 12:56 a.m., a two-man rescue crew extracted Chao from the automobile, according to authorities. When the car’s doors were opened, hundreds of gallons of water poured out.

Chao was unconscious, and EMS personnel attempted to revive her for 43 minutes without success, authorities said.

Angela Chao was much more than the daughter of a Chinese shipping tycoon who became the CEO of Foremost Group. She was a member of the board of the Bank of China and a vice chair of the Council of China’s Foreign Trade. She was also a director of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, a Chinese government-owned enterprise that makes ships for the Chinese military and Foremost Group. She was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Her sister is Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and herself a former labor and transportation secretary. An inspector general report in 2021 accused Elaine Chao of abusing her influence while in office to help her family’s shipping business.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general delivered a 44-page report that laid out how Chao exploited her office personnel for a dozen personal duties and work connected to promoting the business development of the Foremost Group.

Despite the fact that the inspector general forwarded complaints of Chao’s alleged abuses to the Justice Department’s U.S. attorney’s office and Public Integrity Section in December, the Justice Department declined to conduct an investigation, claiming a lack of proof of criminal misconduct.

According to the report, Chao instructed her staff in departmental emails to include her father, sister, and brother-in-law in official events and high-level meetings planned for a departmental travel to China.

As reported by the New York Times, Chao had abused her office to boost the family’s shipping firm in China, where the government manages a bank with loan guarantees from the company worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

According to the report, in addition to the shipping firm, Chao’s family has other links to the Chinese Communist Party, including board seats in state-owned enterprises and a strong friendship between Chao’s father and former Chinese President and General Secretary Jiang Zemin.

By Melinda Davies
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